I was not raised in a Christian home. My parents did the best they could. I was never cautioned against dating or the ways of the world in general. Growing up in a household where both parents worked, I was starving for affection. I longed to be needed and loved by someone, anyone. By the time I was a teenager, I went looking for love in all the wrong places.
As a young, insecure 15 year-old girl, I was excited to be going out with an “older boy”. We dated for about a year when it was nearing his 18th birthday. I was excited to give him the perfect gift. But there was only one thing he really wanted. He’d been asking for it since we started dating the year before. But I was not prepared to give it. After all, I was a “good girl”, and good girls did not give this gift, at least not until they were married, or so I was told. I was not a Christian, had no concept of a loving Father, and no one I could turn to for guidance.
As his birthday approached, I had made up my mind that I was going to give him this gift. I put on a pretty dress, dosed myself in perfume and shaved my legs. After all, wasn’t a girl supposed to look her best on the evening she first gives herself to a man? I could imagine the scene: a nice hotel room, possibly overlooking the beach, with soft music and flowers in the background. He would be gentle and I would be head over heals in love. He promised he would make our time together both romantic and special.
On the evening of his 18th birthday he picked me up and told me there had been a change of plans, that we were going to go to the drive in theatre before we headed to our special place. As the movie played, loudly in the background, the smell of cigarettes and pot looming nearby, one thing led to another and I found myself in a near panic in the back seat of his car. I will never forget his words, “are you ready to give me my birthday present?” Wait! This could not be happening. All of a sudden, fear rose up inside of me. “You said you were taking me someplace special?” This was not what I wanted. Not here, not this way. But he didn’t listen, and finally overpowered me. I felt trapped underneath the weight of him. I could not escape. I told him how scared and uncomfortable I was. I said no, but all he said was, “you promised”.
I tried to fight him, but he told me that by giving in I would show him how much I really loved him. He proceeded to have his way with me. “Oh please stop, please stop. I am not ready. Not like this. Tomorrow, tomorrow I promise.” But he smiled, and laughed a little as he turned up the speaker for the movie loudly, drowning out my sobs. And there, in the backseat of his car, he took the gift that I was not prepared to give, not that way.
On the way home, he told me he had to stop where he worked to pick up something. As a manager, he had a key. Once inside, he locked the door behind us and ushered me into the stockroom, and into the back bathroom. I felt sick, I wanted to run, to scream. I begged, I told him I was tired. I was trembling in fear, I felt weak and hopeless. But as his hands were wrapped gently around my neck, I could feel his grip tighten. I feared what he would do if I tried to run. And again, I lay helpless underneath the weight of him as he had his way with me on the cold, dark, dirty bathroom floor.
And for the next three years, he would call me every time he wanted me and I would go, to present to him the gift that without any regard for my own heart, he took from me, over and over again. There were never any “I love you’s”. There were never any “some day we will be married”. There was only pain and manipulation, fear and regret. And this pain and regret, it haunted me for years.
I could go on about the scars that were left to heal. The nightmares, the feelings of inadequacy, guilt and shame. I could tell you about how I still struggle at times with intimacy in marriage and how I am just now, over the last few years, beginning to learn to see myself through the eyes of real love. I could tell you about how I’ve struggled with poor self-image most of my life and how the need to be accepted and loved weighs heavily on my heart.
But I won’t. Today I want to focus on the testimony of Jesus, the One who brought me out of darkness into His marvelous light. Oh, those were some extremely dark days. But they are but a mere shadow compared to the light that illuminates my path today. You see, He came, and He rescued me. He offered His hand to me, despite my sin, guilt and shame, and pulled me up out of the pit of despair. I was so desperate to be loved and accepted, and in my desperation, He answered my cry. He held me close and washed me with the water of His truth – the truth that says I am loved, adored, cherished and accepted, no matter what.
My friend, I do not know what you’ve been through in your life. Your experience before you met the Lord may not mirror mine. Perhaps you’ve struggled since becoming a Christian. But know this truth today, you are loved – completely without conditions. He will never love you any less. Allow Him to come and wash you with the water of His Word.
He’s brought me out of darkness into His marvelous light, and He will do the same for you.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
Barbie is a wife, mother, artist, author and Child of the King of Kings. She works full time supporting the lead pastor of her church, as she balances faith, family and ministry. Life is busy, but she strives to slow down just long enough to catch glimpses of His love and sprinkles of His grace along the way. Barbie writes at My Freshly Brewed Life, where she shares about her own life openly and honestly so as to encourage others. You can also find her on Twitter and Instragram @BarbieSwihart, and on Facebook.